Monday 22 January 2018

Target set, and... GO!


The last time I wrote about running was back in 2014. I don't really remember why I didn't succeed in building up a good habit, but I didn't. I suspect I injured myself, got ill, was busy with work for a few weeks or just wasn't interested enough to keep it up. Basically I'm naturally lazy and any impediment to momentum results in attempts at bettering myself stalling.


Let's have another go.

In September last year, I felt fat. I was in danger of reaching 100kg which is, to me, a horrible psychological barrier. I looked in the mirror and felt grotesque. I had difficulty moving. My trousers felt tight. I struggled putting my socks on. Attempts at shifting mass had failed, largely because I felt so cumbersome and just plain heavy when I tried to jog anywhere.

Then, something changed. 4 months later, I still haven't worked out what the trigger was, but I literally woke up one Tuesday morning and thought:
'Right. I need to stop being fat. I can do this.'
Unusually, rather than just waiting for one last blowout weekend of gluttony, I just got up, weighed myself immediately and downloaded a calorie tracker app, MyFitnessPal. I know calorie tracking isn't always highly regarded but, for me, forcing myself to be honest and logging everything I eat or drink does shame me into making changes. I've used the app with good results in the past and learnt my core diet isn't actually that bad - it's the crisps and chocolate and beer and post-beer munchie food that gets me. The golden rule for not being fat?
Eat more of the good stuff, and less of the bad.
Anyway, 4 months later, I'm 10kg lighter and on Boxing Day finally got out for my first run in about 8 months. Despite lack of fitness, the reduction in the amount of lard I was carrying around made it seem far easier than the last time I tried.

I'm aiming to get down to 85kg, then 80kg and then work out whether or not I need to continue, as I'll be comfortably inside any recommended limits.

With over 10% of my weight shed, I'm off to a good start on the weight front. Next step, fitness. More on that next time...

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare 25th anniversary tour

London Palladium - 2 June 2016

I first heard of Steve Vai in 1991, as a 12 year old just discovering music and learning guitar. A friend leant me a dodgy cassette bootleg of a Paul Gilbert clinic and, after the recording ended, at the end of one side there was a tantalising partial recording of 2 and a half tracks of the most incredible melodic guitar I'd heard to that point. It was a few months later, when I saw Steve Vai featured on the 'Guitar Legends' documentary screened to accompany the Seville '92 Expo that I finally discovered who it was and went out to buy, and be blown away by, what transpired to be the album 'Passion and Warfare'. (You need to watch this if you love guitars):

The early '90s was a different time. As a formative guitarist, I fell in love with Vai, alongside Satch, Van Halen, May, Beck and Zappa, buying every issue of Guitarist magazine. I distinctly remember a 14-hour overnight coach trip to Austria with school. Prior to the days of phones and electronics, I read and re-read an issue with Vai on the cover wearing a yellow frilly shirt, holding a beautiful white/gold Ibanez (probably a youthful, still pristine 'Evo' - Steve's main guitar for many years) and, importantly, looking cool as fuck. Even though I listened and listened to the music and have never been one to follow a band on the basis of image, there is no doubt that Steve always looked the part. He had the perfect leather-clad metal look while remaining on the right side of glam, no obvious makeup or hair do - you really did believe Vai just got out of bed looking that cool.

Anyway, fast forward 25 years...

The influences of my guitar heroes sadly never propelled me to stardom, but I still give much of their output regular plays with Passion and Warfare itself being prime amongst them.

Passion and Warfare

There are few albums whose covers so accurately reflect their content. All at once colourful, cool, fantastical, slightly surreal and complex. Again, I talk about image. However, it's impossible to listen to Passion and Warfare without mental images appearing. This is the sound of a grand vision which, to my impressionable teenage mind, fitted perfectly with the exploration of new ideas and feelings in my own head - a massive space and universe within the confines of your own head and bedroom.
From bombastic, anthemic opener 'Liberty' to the almost atonic and disjointed yet somehow perfectly coherent soundtrack-to-a-film-that-never-was album closer 'Love Secrets' the album itself is ridiculously diverse, with stripped back balladry ('Sisters') to metal ('Erotic Nightmares') with shades of funk, classical, jazz, musicals and avant garde thrown in. Non-standard arrangements feature aplenty and the guitar work and effects are truly experimental and groundbreaking (a word bandied about far too regularly in the intervening years). In 'The Audience Is Listening', Vai answers his old master Frank Zappa's question 'Does Humour Belong in Music' with a resounding 'yes' with a track that somehow manages to overcome it's inherently cheesy concept to still sound serious - the protagonist mentally giving a big 'fuck you' to the doubters; You can reach your dreams, folks.
Centrepiece to the album is one of the finest performance recordings there is - 'For The Love of God'. For all the vitriol that's been directed at the so-called shredders and at rock in general, I would urge anyone to give this piece a true listen to hear how themes can be developed through a track and how emotion can be captured through playing - the final flurry of notes before the final refrain still gives me goosebumps every single time, conjuring up images of a drowning person using their last strength to make for the surface before sinking back under and succumbing to whatever spiritual end awaits them.

So, how is this going to work live?

Stripped back

Often, when an artist announces a complete album playthrough, you have to wonder how they will pull it off. Passion and Warfare asks more than most rock albums, with its innovative use of effects and massively multi-layered studio trickery. It was, therefore, with some surprise that I settled into the red velvet seats of the London Palladium to see one of the smallest stage setups I've seen. Oddly crammed way back and into the centre was simply amps, gear and mics for the 4-piece band consisting of long time Vai musicians Dave Wiener (guitar, occasionaly keys), Phil Bynoe (bass) and Jeremy Colson (drums). The only additional accoutrement was a relatively small (for the venue) projection screen suspended above the drum riser and not, as one might have expected, a stage full of additional musicians, pyro or choirs.

So, again, how is this going to work live?

As the lights dimmed, Vai entered. Shrouded by a grey hoodie, with laser beams projecting from his eyes (no, really!) the band launched into the stomping Bad Horsie (based, of course, on a riff from the infamous guitar duel from Steve's role as the Devil's guitar slinger in Crossroads) and the Attitude Song from 1985 album Flex-Able. Fan favourites, these ensured everyone was indeed paying attention as Steve continued a mini career retrospective with renditions of more recent track Gravity Storm and Whispering a Prayer. It was here that Vai's magic started to show. Absolute mastery of the instrument was demonstrated perfectly. For some reason, I always assumed the rubbery sound of Gravity Storm was from trem dives. Live, it's clear that it's actually done by pre-bends, i.e. bending the string up before hitting it, executed perfectly to pitch every single time, with Vai's right hand staying pointedly away from the whammy bar for the whole song in case anyone should assume he was cheating.
Whispering a Prayer was another tour de force. Carrying the tune using subtle, and not so subtle, whammy bends, removal of the trem arm to use as a slide, and volume swells to change the attack of individual notes and give the piece a vocal quality; Other than Jeff Beck, there is probably no other guitarist who can make a guitar sound so alive.

Heads up!!!

Finally, we get what we came for. Using video from Steve and Brian May playing at the aforementioned Seville EXPO, we are out of the gates with Liberty. Oddly, whether expectation or something else, it's perhaps the loosest I've ever heard Vai play live. A slight overbend here, or a hint of a bum note in the fastest of runs slip through the normally machine-accurate fingers. However, far from detracting, Steve's enjoyment in his playing is obvious. A grin accompanies the playing throughout.

The rest of the album is as expected. Perfectly executed, with the small band sounding far bigger than might be expected. It is constantly treated reverentially, and even where orchestrations are subtly altered to suit the band, the overall feel of each track is maintained perfectly. An element of humour is maintained throughout, with the only let up being 'For the Love of God', for which Vai stops and composes himself before diving in for another stellar, but movingly serious, performance - no mean feat for such an emotional track that any normal person would be expected to tire from after so many performances.

There is showboating aplenty, as expected. However, it's never done arrogantly and there's always a nod and a wink to what we all secretly know; for all the coolness of Vai, he is actually a geek of the highest order and you can just feel the excitement he must have felt when he invented some new technique we all take for granted now. Whilst many young guitarists nowadays can keep up with Vai in terms of speed, seeing just how much effort Dave Weiner (an exceptional player in his own right) has to put in to match some of the unison/harmony lines demonstrates Vai's 'different league' status, as he appears to be cruising much of the material, and also has the capacity to inject meaningful phrasing and dynamics beyond the basic notes.

The playthrough ends with 'Love Secrets' crashing out, with Steve shrugging with a laugh and a 'that's all I've got' as he acknowledges the difficulty of arranging such a complex studio piece for a live performance - something achieved impressively and admirably here.


The encore opens with a tribute to early mentor and musical genius Frank Zappa with a heartfelt rendition of Stevie's Spanking, designed as a showcase for the then 20 year old Vai to showcase his talents live. This is followed by a 'Build a Song' section, where the whole band demonstrate impressive pitch recognition and musical interplay as members of the audience suggest parts which are somehow pulled together into a coherent musical statement.
The final encore is Taurus Bulba, from the Fire Garden Suite.
Even as a lifelong fan, I was blown away by tonight's performance to the point where I've been rediscovered my love for Steve Vai's work, rediscovering the lesser listened albums and reminding myself just how skilled and how inventive he really is. If the rumours of a stripped back guitar-centric album turn out to be true then there really still is a lot to come from one of music's true innovators.

Rating: 10/10
Full setlist at

Monday 14 March 2016


Hey!Hello! - Ginger, The Rev, Hollis, Toshi and Ai
Well, this is a bit special...

The first H!H! album was a cracking little side project knocked out by Ginger Wildheart (of The Wildhearts notoriety) as a poppy upbeat counterpoint to the maelstrom that was the Mutation project, with both albums released simultaneously via PledgeMusic back in 2013.

Ginger has taken the template used for the first album, namely catchy-as-hell female-fronted pop rock with edgy lyrics, and turbo charged the formula on the aptly named Hey!Hello!Too! with the aid of a real band. Whereas the debut was recorded solely by Ginger himself (who proved surprisingly competent behind the kit), the addition of touring band members The Rev, Toshi and Ai and new singist Hollis Mahady has given the songs a huge power boost. This vehicle has been chipped off the scale.

The album opens with the previously released single Automatic Love. This barnstormer was first played at Ginger's Halloween Hootenanny gig last November and, while a great rocker and sure-to-be crowd-pleaser, is somehow a misleading intro to the album, as it's heavier (in terms of both style and mood) than the rest of the tracks.
Things move swiftly on to the humorous Kids, a warning to prospective parents: 'make no mistake about it, kids are gonna screw you up' before wondering how they turn into 'creepy little motherfuckers'. This is followed by the first of three 'covers', a great version of 70's band Sailor's Glass of Champagne. The remaining covers are actually existing Ginger tracks Don't Stop Loving the Music and Body Parts, which featured on the year-long GASS fanclub project and the Albion album respectively. While it may seem a cheat to re-record such recent tracks, there is no doubt they fit well alongside the rest of this collection and, as Ginger has already said, were only recorded earlier as it was unclear whether there would be any more H!H! at all. Anything that gets these tracks in front of a wider audience is fine by me.

It's difficult to single out other tracks - this really is an all-round no filler, all thriller album, with songs you can sing along to before the end of your first listen, harmonies and all. By the time the final pairing of Little Piggy (the best girl power anthem since, er, Ginger's last one) and the singalong knees up of Forever Young you realise 11 tracks and 38 minutes have passed impossibly quickly and it's back to the start for another go round.

You can currently preorder the album from Round Records at PledgeMusic and Hey!Hello! will be touring in April. See you down the front!

Update: Well, what a difference 12 hours can make. Singer Hollis has left the band to concentrate on her own band, Love Zombies and so the tour has been cancelled. The statements are here, but they've released a new video for Let's Get Emotional, which I think is more representative of the album.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday 11 February 2016

A plan starts to form...

A plan

During my 2015 Year of Microadventure challenge*, as suggested by the wonderfully inspirational Alastair Humphreys, I came up with a simple plan: Walk to the office.

Easy, you say? I do that every day, you say? Well, for me it's slightly different. I'm currently an IT consultant, based at my home in South London. My office, however, is in Tewkesbury, in Gloucestersestershire. Have you seen how far that is? I mean, it's nearly in Wales!

A quick look at the map shows it to be around 120 miles. That's 190 km. That's quite a lot. Regardless, my plan is to walk there from home unsupported** this summer. I'll be on my own, which adds to the challenge as, although I've bivvied and camped a fair bit, I've never been camped beyond the garden on my own.

Proposed route

Having had a brief look at the map, I've decided to take the following general route, subject to more detailed planning once I've actually had a closer inspection, of course. I'd favour pleasant scenery and countryside over quicker straight line routes any day. Having said that, my first day will be as direct as possible, to try and clear the urban areas quickly:
  • depart South London
  • head across Richmond Park and cross M4
  • head vaguely across Colne Valley Regional Park
  • cross M25 towards Chilterns, staying north of High Wycombe
  • head west, keeping north of Oxford in direction of Woodstock
  • cross the Cotswolds and over M5
  • arrive Tewkesbury
(I'll figure out how to stick a map in at some point!)

Yes, there are slightly more direct routes. However, they take in areas I'm more familiar with and I want to get out of my comfort zone and give myself a bit of a navigational challenge. I'm also keen to avoid the Thames Path, as I've been walking that in sections with a friend (really need to finish that one day!) so don't want to spoil the fun.


Travel light, travel fast. That's the plan. As I'll be travelling alone, I'm not assuming there'll be much to do in the evenings in a bivvy bag. I'll also be tired from walking so hopefully I'll be able to bed down around 10pm, shortly after the light has fully gone, and get up with the sun. Allowing a bit of slack for distractions I'm hoping I'll be able to manage around 14-15 hours active time (including breaks).
On a recent microadventure jaunt, we covered approximately 22km in around 5 and a half hours along part of the North Downs way with a similar size pack to the one I'm planning to take in favourable conditions. Therefore I'm hoping to achieve it in 4 full days, although I'll probably book the next day as contingency. This is around 48km per day with an average pace of about 3.5 km/h. I'm not looking to crack along at 5km an hour, but fully expecting to put in the hours.

It'll be tough!

Gear, etc.

I'll write some more posts in the coming weeks on my plans for:

  • gear
  • clothing
  • food

So, that's it. Just need to find a date to do it now!

* I've not been terribly organised about documenting my adventures to date. My fellow camper has done better than me with this post (seems to be down at time of writing - sort it out Jayne!)

** I say unsupported. I'm not ruling out the odd pub stop. Purely to refill my water bottle, of course...

Saturday 2 May 2015

How much do you earn? #talkpay


If you're on Twitter, you've probably noticed the #talkpay hashtag floating round today. Lauren Voswinkel's blog post (I believe it started there) seems to have kickstarted a flood of techies (and it is primarily techies) announcing their salaries to the world, as well as exchanging interview and job search anecdotes.


The purpose of the original article was to try and highlight the terrible pay gap evident between genders and yes, ethnic backgrounds. This is obviously not a good thing. However, the subsequent postings seem (and I have no hard metrics for this, and it is likely highly biased by my Twitter network) to be largely from white, ambitious types who have generally appear to be relatively successful.


Oddly, there's no bragging. People aren't saying 'look how well I've done'. As much as you can pick up from 140 character messages, people seem to be saying a rather muted 'well, here you go - I'm probably proud of this? Is it good?' Perhaps this highlights a big problem. People, even successful ones, have no idea how much they're really worth.

It's odd that in this world of continuous improvement and metrics, even using something as absolute as measurable as money, we're unable to mentally quantify 'value' and 'self-worth' properly. Perhaps it's because money is actually quite a long way down the ageing, but still interesting, 'Hierarchy of needs' (unless, of course, you measure your 'self-actualisation' by the number of zeroes on your bank balance).

How much do I earn then?

I don't know why, but I'm just not comfortable sharing. Maybe it's because I'm stereotypically English? Maybe it's because I'm reasonably comfortable and possibly a little ashamed of how much I earn compared to many hard workers, and those in true poverty in troubled places? After all, I am playing life on the 'easy' setting...

I don't know. Part of me has a problem knowing what other people earn. Ignorance is bliss, and all that - what if the cretin next to me is earning more for the same job? Which, I guess, is the point of this debate. However, perspective is slightly different from a position of relative comfort to one at the bottom. Subjectivity, perception, individual weighting on money as reward, etc. make this a difficult one to call. I have actually been in the position of finding out my comparative worth in a role and ultimately ended up massively disillusioned by exactly that situation, leading to a prolonged period of severe mental anguish.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I believe in 'equal' pay. I worked at a large corporate firm that, for various historical reasons, had people at different sites doing the same job although some were members of a union (that did not really suit the modern industry) whilst others were treated as individuals. Being shortly out of university, I was brimming with pride when I got a top performance rating at annual review time. However, the following week, when the corresponding pay rises were announced, I got the top 3% hike, whilst the union members got 6% across the board, regardless of performance.

While I say I don't believe in equal pay, I do believe in merit-based reward. And I absolutely, emphatically, believe that everyone should have the same opportunity to be rewarded the same. If you are a gay, black guy I want you to earn what I earn. But only if you're as good as me. Otherwise I'll end up feeling bitter and demoralised and will end up, either subconsciously or otherwise, adjusting my effort to balance things as I see it. This is a natural reaction I think. From 10+ years at big corporates I've seen it time and time again - the malaise that sets in when reward models are wrong and people start to self-compensate for perceived injustice in the system. It helps no-one. Individuals become depressed, productivity drops, recruitment and retention become difficult.

So what is the right reward model?

Simple answer: Who knows? There isn't one probably. Otherwise it would be the same everywhere. The fact is, it has to reflect the size of the company, the profitability of the industry sector, the culture of the company, the economic climate and a million other factors. Not an easy job. I would hate to work in HR, who become the target for the vitriol of a million disgruntled employees.

Reward, as far as the individual is concerned, is more than just money. For me, I place a great value on flexibility, and have sacrificed salary for extra annual leave, childcare days (I currently work a '9-day fortnight'), ability to work 8-5 one day, then midday until 10pm the next without having to jump through hoops to do it, homeworking, and other similar arrangements. I've turned down firm job offers at £20k more than I'm on because they sounded, to simplify somewhat, like hard work. I've constrained my career in the past to support my other half in allowing her to flourish and succeed in her chosen profession which has benefited us both in the long run. Likewise, she has slowed her career to spend time with our daughter - not because she's had to, but because she wants to. What you consider you're worth in financial terms is ultimately down to you - perhaps, as a cancer sufferer say, you place great value in the blanket health cover you get in a low-paid job at a big firm over big bucks as a contractor where your insurance premiums are unaffordable?

I'm not even sure where my arguments are headed. As with many others commenting on this, the discussion has become one about individuals justifying their worth, while losing sight of the original goal of improving the lives of 'minority' groups and women. I don't know how to fix it. I don't feel comfortable asking for pay rises and I'm sure people who are made to feel insecure by society in general find it even harder. In a market-driven economy, employers will ultimately have to try and keep wages low (with a few niche exceptions), and it really is a case of the old cliché 'the squeakiest wheel gets oiled'. I want to live in a society where women, Asians, Africans, homosexuals, people from unprivileged backgrounds, and everyone else feel secure and comfortable enough to squeak equally loudly.

But don't have to.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Army On The Dance Floor - Many Faces of War


You probably haven't heard of Army On The Dance Floor. I certainly hadn't when I was tipped off by Primitive Race, who in turn I found out about after a particularly brilliant PWEI gig. On a particularly dull morning, I was introduced to the sound of 'Machine':
If you like your beats big and your vocals powerful and crystal clear you'll probably be as taken by the excellent album opener as I was. With a driving, pumping bass, classic synth sounds and a mid-paced tempo that guarantees to get you moving the track just drags you along with it to its super catchy chorus whilst remaining spacious and airy throughout. In fact this airiness and space pervades the entire album, creating a sound both familiar and old-skool yet very, very modern.

This sound is a true credit to the production abilities of AOTDF driving force Kourtney Klein, who is no stranger to big sound with her former associations with EBM/industrial outfits Combichrist and Nitzer Ebb. Not content with just being a classically-trained percussionist, hot-as-hell go-go dancer or TV presenter, Kourtney has assembled AOTDF to self-release the synth-driven music that she wants to - a refreshing move in the current climate of label-crafted wannabe all-from-the-same-mould plastic pop stars.


After the opening track come 'Juggernaut' and 'Lightning Strike' - straightforward pop songs, perhaps a little heavy for commercial radio despite their catchiness.

'Five Million Stars' has hit single written all over it. A lovely little love song that calls to mind Erasure - not the first or only nod to an obvious inspiration. This is followed by 'Carnival', yet another cracking pop song that manages, both lyrically and musically, to conjure the swirling of a fairground waltzer-ride.

'Bury You Alive', featuring Dann Saxton is possibly, for me, the only track that doesn't quite fit on the album. Whilst having no obvious defects, the darker sound and longer length with a less catchy chorus just don't quite tie in, being more Depeche Mode in feel. However, the track acts as a good breather before the second half of the album really kicks off.


'Leia', the beautiful Leia to borrow a lyric, brings the album back on track with its programmed drums, synth patterns and haunting vocals. For me, this was the first track where the lyrics really come to the fore. Behind the sparkly pop production and radio-friendly vocal there are some extremely powerful and compelling lyrics expressing sadness and jealousy at a relationship ruined by a fixation on a past lover. These deeper lyrics make you reconsider the other tracks, and soon you realise even as far back as first track 'Machine', with it's description of battling to suppress emotion, you realise this is a far cleverer album than the poppiness suggests.

Hints of Erasure appear throughout the album but are at their strongest on 'Captain of Your Own Sea' - another track with the sadness of the lyrics a counterpoint to the jolliness and jauntiness of the music. The shameful shortness of this track almost makes you think this could well actually be a Vince Clark cast-off.

Many Faces of War

The album closes with the absolutely stunning title track 'Many Faces of War'. This 12-minute multi-sectioned epic is a mini album in its own right. Opening with a haunting mock battle cry, the track starts with strangely fantastical, almost Game of Thrones style imagery, before pumping beats and metaphor mutate to a crescendo with much more personal lyrics exposing inner thoughts.
The track climaxes, and ultimately breaks down, in a fit of screaming bitterness and consuming anger that gives way to quiet reflection and acceptance - regret, sadness and loneliness all captured painfully yet perfectly, framed by high Numan-esque synths and Peter Gabriel-style pseudo panpipes. 

By the time the refrain is taken up by a haunting (yes, I use that word again) reverb-laden piano, you can feel your heartbeat slowing to match the music - a beautiful melancholic end to a stunning and clever track and a compelling album.


This album seems to have had no big release, no live support, no physical CD or mechandise and no publicity. However, it is so complete and well-realised that it would be a travesty if it were overlooked by the wider world. My fear is that it'll be considered too poppy for a lot of people, and too unfashionably tuneful to get the airplay it deserves. As someone who regularly listens to stuff like Voice of The Beehive back to back with Strapping Young Lad though, I encourage you to give this a go - the entire album is currently up on YouTube so please give it a try at least!

Rating: 8/10 - Cracking debut. Dark, poppy and beautiful synthpop

Friday 12 September 2014

U2 - Songs of Innocence

Free music!

Much has been written already about the way Apple have given away U2's latest album and there has been much speculation as to why and how much U2 pocketed as a result. I'm not going to cover that in detail here. As far as I'm concerned, it's pure marketing or alternatively, an attempt at a new form of distribution. Either way, U2 would never turn down an offer like that at this stage in their career. I suspect with dwindling airplay, now they've been usurped by the like of The Killers (who ironically stole both their sound and engineer/producer Steve Lillywhite) this was the only way they could reach a new and wider market. With iTunes offering half price deals on their back catalogue they're bound to pick up a bit more as people rediscover the joys of the Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Zooropa. Nestle use the same approach with KitKat - release a 'limited edition' mint version for a while and everyone remembers how good the normal ones are and sales jump.
Er, so having now covered that in more detail than intended, on to the album itself!

Worth the price?

Opener 'The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)' kicks off the album with a straightforward grower of a track. While not in your face, it is one that will morph into an ear worm after a few radio plays - I can imagine this fitting nicely into the Absolute Radio playlist, for example.
'Every Breaking Wave' follows, a nice gentle mid-tempo number with a rhythm guitar part reminiscent of The Police's 'Every Breathe You Take'. Perfectly pleasant, but nothing special - and so it continues...
In terms of performance, by this point I was already starting to notice a weakness in the performances. Bono's voice seems to be suffering at the high end, resorting to falsetto far more than usual - sounding almost Prince-like on 'Sleep Like a Baby Tonight'! Whilst he's always had a slightly strained quality, which has been used to accentuate more emotive lines in the past, now it seems a little thin and almost as if the top couple of notes are requiring real physical effort to hit. Probably time for the band to think about tuning down a tone...
If fact, it's the performances that let this album down. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the songs, but there's no imagination in the orchestration - The Edge's guitar sounds are fashionably bland - even further distancing U2 from the delayed, processed tones of some of their biggest hits.
Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton are also taking it easy. This was not an album that had the band jumping round the studio, even on the 'big' track 'Volcano'. Rather, this has the sound of four guys sitting comfortably in a room strumming away gently - an irony given the punk references in the opening track and liner notes.

Lazy production

This is a very clean sounding album. All the instruments are well placed, but the mix favours the vocal, with the backing almost disappearing, perhaps because there's nothing worth bringing forward. The vocals have a very airy, live sound - it's easy to imagine them emanating from a stadium stage. However, it sometimes feels like you're hearing from the bar or toilets as there's so little else at the front of the mix.
Despite this, it's not a bad album at all and has some nice grooves in places. If you like your rock radio friendly and modern then you'll probably love it. If you want crazy guitar sounds a la 'The Fly' shaking your trouser legs you'll be left a little short.
In summary, this is probably the best U2 album I've heard this century, but it's not a patch on anything from the golden days of '84-94.

Overall: 3/5 (3.5 for the songs, 2 for production!)